You may be aware that free radicals present health dangers for humans, and that antioxidants can help — but did you know that your pet is vulnerable as well? The good news is, there are ways to help protect your pet, just as there are ways to protect yourself.

Let’s take a look at what free radicals are, what they do, and how antioxidants can help.

What Are Free Radicals?

Throughout the day — as your pet digests food, chases a toy around, or even breathes — your pet's body is producing free radicals. A natural by-product of metabolism, free radicals are unavoidable. Containing one extra electron, free radicals are able to bond with healthy cells, causing cellular deterioration that can lead to negative effects on health.

There are two factors that produce free radicals:

  • Body factors, such as metabolizing nutrients, illness, inflammation, stress, and obesity
  • Environmental factors, such as pollution, UV rays, and cigarettes

It’s important to know that free radical damage accumulates with age, and that antioxidants neutralize free radicals and help to decrease the damage they can cause.

How Can Antioxidants Help?

Antioxidants are substances — including some vitamins, minerals, or other nutrients — that protect cells and reduce damage from free radicals. Antioxidants also help support the immune system by providing electrons that act on white blood cells (T and B cells) to transform free radicals into non-reactive molecules.

The following nutrients have antioxidant properties:

  • Vitamins A, C, and E
  • Beta carotene
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Isoflavones

Antioxidants can benefit pets in two ways:

  • Support the immune system by decreasing the damage free radicals can cause
  • Preserve food (maintaining flavor, odor, and texture)

During the pet food manufacturing process, antioxidants such as vitamin E work as preservatives by helping prevent the destruction of the food’s fat and fat-soluble nutrients. As with human foods, both natural and synthetic (manufactured) preservatives are used in commercial pet foods to help prevent the ingredients from spoiling.

Common natural antioxidants used in pet foods:

  • Mixed tocopherols (vitamin E)
  • Ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
  • Citric acid
  • Rosemary

Common synthetic antioxidants used in pet foods:

  • Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
  • Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
  • Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ)

Purina Products with Antioxidants

Purina makes a full range of complete and balanced pet foods with antioxidants. For example, Purina ONE SMARTBLEND® features an antioxidant blend of Vitamins A & E, along with zinc and selenium. It also emphasizes real meat, fish, or poultry with targeted nutrition formulas optimized for your pet’s lifestyle, providing balanced nutrition for each life stage.

As we’ve seen, free radicals are a real danger, not just to people but to our pets. Fortunately, a complete and balanced diet — like Purina’s quality pet foods provide — can help.